Professor Michael Belgrave

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History is complicated and always full of surprises, because as Michael Belgrave sees it, history is always about both the past and the present. One of his research areas is New Zealand history, including the treaty claims process.

“My hope is that writing about the treaty settlements process will enable people to gain a better understanding of what the Treaty of Waitangi was in the 1840s and how that differs from the role the treaty plays in Waitangi Tribunal investigations and treaty settlements,” he says.

“Right now, I’m working on a range of things including historical accounts of claimants in the Hauraki negotiations with the Crown and a book on peace making after the Waikato War of 1863 and 1864 and the opening up of the King Country. I also research in social policy and health history, including social work in schools.”

The King Country was an independent state in New Zealand and largely off-limits to Europeans until the late 1880s. The Māori King, Tāwhiao, lived there from 1864 to the 1880s, and the Kingitanga promoted Māori unity, autonomy and an end to land sales. Despite being independent of the rest of New Zealand a good deal of interaction between Maori and settler societies took place across the aukati, the border between the King and the Queen’s territories.

“It’s a fascinating and important part of our history. I’m exploring how iwi negotiated with the Crown in what became a very complicated process of diplomacy.”

Michael’s 2005 book, Historical Frictions: Maori claims & reinvented histories, delved into the history behind claims and the way the legal system deals with Maori history.

“Historically, it seems that legal debates were not only between Maori and Pakeha, but that the courts were also used to maintain or reclaim traditional rights between Maori and Maori. From this perspective the Waitangi Tribunal is less radical than is often supposed and is seen to be carrying on a similar function to earlier tribunals and courts in the transformation of historical narratives.”

The treaty work is collaborative and very much a team effort, with Michael working with a team of researchers in history, environmental science, demography, Maori studies and planning.

Professor Belgrave is based at the School of Humanities in Albany. He has written and co-authored a number of books as well as many reports and journal articles. He joined Massey University in 1993.

View details of Michael Belgrave's research

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